Mario Balotelli's two-goal performance in Thursday's Euro semifinal confirmed what many football fans already knew about the 21-year-old dynamo. He's one of the most polarizing players in Europe, but he has the talent to back up his antics.
Balotelli's effort was on point against Germany. He played focused against an elite squad, and he did exactly what his team needed to earn a victory. The goals shouldn't come as a surprise. He's been a dynamic goal-scorer for Manchester City since 2010 and did the same with Internazionale for four seasons prior to that, but his scoring has never been more important.
Italy's unlikely victory over Germany was spearheaded by Balotelli's efforts. Sure, Riccardo Montolivo set up Balotelli's goal in the 36th minute (0:40 on the video) with a masterful through ball, but Balotelli still finished the play.
We've seen him lollygag his way up and down countless pitches. He isn't always "checked in," and he only plays when he wants too. A player who only competes on his terms can be tough to handle, but they are worth it if their production matches the headaches.
Now, with three goals in five Euro games, you have to believe Balotelli's end justifies the means. His job isn't done, though.
In fact, Italy's tallest task lies ahead of them. They'll need Balotelli at full throttle if they want to knock Spain off their lofty Euro perch. He will face a tough defense with consistency at all four back positions.
Up the middle, he must deal with Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. Both players are sound tacklers, consistent and play with a high IQ. Balotelli will have to play smart, attacking football if he wants to trump their efforts on Sunday's massive stage.
The Spanish defenders have been here before. They know what it takes to win. Balotelli doesn't. He must show that his focus in major games matches his propensity for highlight-reel goals.
Italy will enter Sunday as an underdog. Balotelli can turn the momentum on its head once again with a goal in the first half. He's Italy's most dynamic attacker and possibly the purest goal-scorer in Sunday's championship tilt.
Defeating Spain won't be easy. The Italian squad needs Balotelli's motor to be running, and they need his striking to be precise in order to dethrone the defending champions.
If he shows a "can-do" attitude up front, he could alter the outcome of this game all by himself.
Just ask Germany.
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